Friday 17th March – A Test of the Knee

Despite Kevin’s intentions last night, he enjoyed a sleep in while I turned over the giant log on the fire to create some morning flames. We’d put this massive log over the struggling fire before bed last night thinking there was no way it would burn, but it went up in some flames because it was so dry, then smouldered the whole night through and all it needed was a turnover and the fire was away again. Our aim was to get to the springs for a morning bath before it got too crowded.

After brekkie and coffee, I did a quick lap around camp trying to find the older ladies to warn them of the dangers of crossing the river, but they must have left camp so we hit the trail, Kev in appropriate footwear this time. We carried only my phone in a dry bag, otherwise travelling light and full of confidence. Kevin had been smart and marked our crossing spot with a red ball that hung on the powerlines overhead. Sure enough, we hit the bank of the river right across from the springs. There were a few patrons already soaking and one of them told us we should cross further up, but we explained we’d been there done that.

Kevin swam across the twenty meter wide river, no issues. I did the same after him, putting my phone underneath my hat to keep it dry. We joined the three people in the warm tub before retreating into the enclosed hot tub. We had it to ourselves and didn’t have to be weirded out by the older guy that was sitting in the warm tub naked, despite the numerous “NO NUDITY” warning signs about the place.

We read all the poems and sayings on the graffiti’d walls, trying to make sense of them, but mostly just enjoying their colour and variety. We retreated back to the river for a cold dip, then back to the hot tub, just to give our bodies a shock. We joined the others in the medium tub after that and the old guy voiced his concern about us getting the van up the road we’d come in on. He’d been here many times and seen many failures during his stays and based on the Astro’s build, he didn’t have the greatest confidence in us. We took his comments on board, but also tried to remain optimistic, there was much more of America for Kevin to see!

After about an hour of soaking, we waded back across the river, Kev donned his shoes and we trudged back for the last time. We split when Kev realised he forgot his sunnies and backtracked, while I dawdled on. Back at camp, we checked out the decommissioned power plant that was next to our spot and went into the now dry water tunnel where the giant wheels would have been turned by the redirected river. We didn’t venture too far into the tunnels because of the huge swarm of flies that accosted us whenever we got near.

Procrastination over, it was time to get the Astro up the hill. We both agreed it would be best if I drove and Kevin directed, shovelling rocks where needed to help our chances. We had a good look at the first obstacle where we’d bottomed out yesterday and decided on a different line. With Kevin’s direction, I crept up the hill with some decent momentum until Kevin waved his arms telling me to stop. I’d forgotten about the huge rock I had to avoid to stop myself from getting beached, which someone had done the day before. Kevin said I had only been inches away and I believed him, we were so lucky. He directed me back down the hill a bit so I could correct myself and drive around the massive boulder. That part done, we carried on to the next section of washed out road. We were overly cautious and put some big rocks in a few holes, shovelling some loose gravel all around to keep it all in place. It may not have been necessary, but we were happy to have done it. No issues this time, the Astro got straight up and we were out, much to our delight. High fives all round, we’d done really well.

On Dorian’s advice, we were on the hunt for the Flume Trail, which would take us to some waterfalls. It was a 6 mile hike in so a good test for Kevin’s knee, which was still in recovery mode. We’d decided that even if we stayed in the vicinity another night, we wouldn’t go back down to the hot springs, figuring we’d used all our luck getting in and out just the once. We found the trailhead without any issue and donned a Camelbak with some snacks for the day. We got walking around noon. At the start of the trail, we had to cross the creek over a causeway. Since Kevin had just finished donning his hiking boots, I piggy-backed him across (yeah, Sarah is strong) so he didn’t have to get his feet wet. Safely on the other side, we filled up the Camelbak with the beautiful clear water that flowed beneath our feet and treated it with a few Aquatabs. After that, we got hiking.

We were on the Flume trail, which followed the path of an old flume, basically a large trough that carried water through the mountains, dropping one foot for every thousand feet of travel. It had been a huge structure that only recently got torn down, probably for safety reasons, but we could see the foundations and remnants of timber as we walked. The trail was wide and we weren’t sure how we would come across the place Dorian had told us about since we were on the side of the mountain, quite a ways up from the river below. When we came across a scout group about an hour in, we asked if we were heading to the waterfalls and they told us that we were on the wrong trail for that, instead we were heading for “The Springs”. Despite thinking we weren’t going where we thought, we carried on to see what we could find. The trail itself was pretty uninteresting being pretty much fire road, but the views into the valley and of the canyon above were pretty cool. We could hear the falls below us, tempting our parched mouths.

As we started descending closer to the river, we could see sort-of bridges across the river, forming small cascading walls. We debated whether they were man made, but concluded they couldn’t be because they were in such a unique shape. We carried on down the side of the hill, descending slowly to the river.

Eventually, we could hear it, the springs. They came off a man made dam wall and there were about a dozen people hanging out, jumping off cliffs into the clear blue water. After asking one of the guys who, according to Kevin, was one of the fittest Americans he had seen, we carried on past the springs to see the actual source of the water. It was only another half mile or so and we came across some pretty campsites along the way. We found the spring and it was something I’d never seen before. Pure, clean, 100% transparent water was bubbling up out of the ground underneath a tree, at some speed too! Since we were almost out of water, we refilled with some of the freshest water we’ve probably ever tasted. I was curious to know exactly where the source came from, finding it hard to believe there was an endless vertical tunnel feeding this spring. When I got in, I was standing waist deep, but when I poked my legs underneath the tree, I could feel the gushing water pushing against me. Amazing that everything downstream of us was fed by this one source.

We trekked back to the springs where we joined the others there in swimming in the pool underneath the waterfall. Next to the main pool was “The Toilet Bowl”, perfectly named because it is a whirlpool of gushing water with a tunnel-outlet at its base. We considered swimming in to the bowl through the underwater tunnel, but decided we’d better not because of the huge currents inside the bowl and also because we had no idea how deep the tunnel was or how far it was to the other side. Instead, we climbed the face of the rock by the pool. Kevin first, to the admiration of the crowd and he climbed it first go so that put me under pressure. I didn’t have any issues following, enjoying the short climbing problem. When Kevin was talking to an onlooker, Cindy, later, she said that Kevin had done well, but I’d made it look easy. Sarah’s winning!

Looking down into the Toilet Bowl, there was no way we were going to jump into it, the whirlpool current was violent and the unknown tunnel was the only way out, with nothing to hold on to in the mean time. So, we jumped off the top of the rock back into the main pool. Kevin got talking to Cindy and her daughters while I did some more exploring, going into the caves underneath the waterfalls and playing with the fishies. I walked to the top of the dam wall which just had a slow trickle of water going over it before becoming the gushing flow of water below. It really is a unique and beautiful spot.

I joined Kevin just as Cindy was leaving and we sat on the warm rocks to have a snack before heading back. I wasn’t really looking forward to the hike out since I’m not a fan of out-and-backs, but there was nothing else for it, so we got going. About halfway back, we came upon a couple and their little black dog. We slowed to their pace and after making some conversation, we ended up walking the whole way back with them, stopping whenever their puppy needed water. Paria is at university studying computer science and originally from Iran and her boyfriend Bashir is Turkish and had spent ten years living in Sydney, so we had plenty in common. The four of us separated naturally, Kevin pairing up with Bashir and us girls just behind having our own private conversation. I feel like we were all talking about similar things. Me and Paria discovered we were both passionate about climbing and she was impressed that I worked at Tesla and her life goal was to live and travel in a van. Our new friends made the return hike go very quickly, we were back at the trailhead before we knew it.

But the fun wasn’t over yet, Bashir and Paria told us about a spot just downstream of the creek crossing where there was some deepwater soloing. We needed our evening shower anyway, so we followed them downstream a short way until we reached another small waterfall with a cliff off to the side that had a few climbing routes on it. Bashir showed us how it was done on the easier route and Kevin followed close behind while I tried my hand at a second route off to the right. I only got about half way until I ran out of footholds and jumped off, then gave the left route a go. That one was fine, but the jump off the top was descent so I had to work up a bit of courage to propel myself off the cliff, but it was all worth it.

Paria got onto the harder route and with shoes on, she made better progress using a sweet split move. What a great way to end the day.

Back at the carpark, we swapped details, all stoked to have met each other and before we left, Bashir and Paria were kind enough to give us their left over water since they were driving back to Tucson that night. Very thoughtful of them and super convenient because we were almost at the point of rationing water.

We still had a couple hours of daylight left and we were ready for camp and some beers. We found a spot at Healesville campground, not far downstream of our last creek spot. It was a little busy, but we managed to find a spot in an area out the back, sharing it only with another family. No campfires allowed, so we set ourselves up and I got started on dinner while Kevin did some repair work on his hiking boots, the soles having separated from the boot. He then got to work fixing my clamp since he buggered it up. Our neighbour, Ben, came over to check out the Astro van setup since he had a mate who was obsessed with them and I got his tick of approval. A young Dad, he had that twinkle in his eye that said, “I wish I’d done this when I was young…”

We ate dinner just as the sun was going down, a yummy Mexican rice with zucchini and chickpeas which got Kevin’s tick of approval. After a cup of coffee and some desert, Kev was straight into bed at around 8:30pm. It was the biggest day he’d had since busting his knee, so his body needed rest. I climbed in not long after and read my book while I listened to Kevin’s exhausted snores. Just as I was getting to sleep, a huge Mexican family rolled into camp and got stuck into setting up in the pitch dark. Not my idea of camping, but it was a Friday night, so they were making the most of the Spring break weekend. We fell asleep to the sound of excited kids, stoked to be out camping.

Busted knee? What busted knee?

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